High Country Baking: This chocolate-hazelnut squares recipe works at any elevation
High Country Baking
High altitudes makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column, published on Thursdays, presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.
Rich and indulgent, these chocolate-hazelnut squares are like a brownie, but less sweet, more complex and with a strong splash of panache. Serve them as a dessert or as the star of a cookie tray; they’re definitely company-worthy. Their taste and texture aren’t the only things to win them high marks. They’re also easier to make than they look and can be prepared days before serving.
To save time, purchase hazelnuts that are already skinned. If you can’t find them, skin them yourself. Here’s how: Immediately after toasting them in the oven, wrap them tightly in a kitchen towel dampened with hot water, wait a few minutes, and, while still in the towel, rub them briskly, open the towel, if the skins are still on them, re-wrap and rub again until most are skin-less, and let them cool. Don’t want to use hazelnuts? Use almonds instead, the results are just as good.
If you’re serving these beauties as a plated dessert, cut larger pieces than those in the photograph and accompany them with whipped cream and sweetened sliced strawberries or raspberries.
Works at any elevation
Make in an 8×8 inch shiny metal baking pan
- 1 cup skinned hazelnuts, toasted
- ¾ cup bleached all-purpose flour, spoon and level
- ½ cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons (half stick) unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
- 6 ounces high-quality semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 large egg yolks
- 12 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
- Grated chocolate, optional
1. Make the hazelnut base: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center. Line the pan with nonstick aluminum foil or regular foil, extending it several inches on opposite sides to use as handles when removing the baked base. Generously grease regular foil and/or any exposed parts of the pan with a baking spray that contains flour. Set aside. Add the nuts, flour, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the nuts are finely chopped. Or, chop the nuts finely by hand, add the flour, sugar, and salt and whisk vigorously to combine.
2. Use a microwave oven to melt the butter and chopped chocolate in a large microwave-safe bowl at low-medium temperature (I use #4 out of #10) until almost fully melted, remove and whisk until smooth and fully mixed. If hot, let cool slightly and then add the eggs, one at a time, whisking to combine completely after each addition. Stir in the nut-flour mixture, stopping as soon as it’s blended. Scrape into the prepared pan, smooth and level the top, and bake until a tester comes out with a few crumbs and the top is set but soft and springy, about 15-20 minutes. Don’t overbake, the base should be moist, like a brownie. Cool completely on a rack.
3. Make the chocolate topping: Bring the cream and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan on medium-low heat. While it heats, beat the yolks lightly in a small bowl or cup measure. As soon as the cream reaches a boil, slowly drizzle half of it into the yolks, whisking constantly. Pour the yolk-cream mixture back into the sauce pan with the rest of the cream and cook on low, don’t let it boil, whisking, until it thickens slightly. It should be just a little thicker than heavy cream, 170 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate, submerging it in the hot liquid. Wait a few minutes for most of the chocolate to melt, and then whisk until completely smooth and shiny.
4. Pour the chocolate mixture over the cooled hazelnut base and smooth and level it with an offset spatula. Chill, lightly covered (don’t seal tightly or condensation may occur), until firm, at least 6 hours, up to 5 days. Use the foil handles to remove the dessert from the pan and then cut it into squares. Heat the knife in hot water and dry it before each slice. Use a fine strainer to sprinkle a little grated chocolate over the pieces (optional). Serve cold or at room temperature
This is a variation of a recipe published by Gourmet Magazine. Vera Dawson is a high-elevation baking instructor and author of three high-altitude cookbooks (available at The Bookworm of Edwards or Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). She’s lived in Frisco since 1991 and has been developing and adjusting recipes so that they work at our altitude ever since. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.